If you're considering a trip to Cologne, I have to say, I recommend it.
I stayed for 3 nights, with a travel day on either end, but I've streamlined my favourite aspects into a 2-day itinerary here. If you'd like to see a more personal account, I intend to make a blog post about my experience on my website as soon as I finish my second installment for my trip to Poland.
This city is quirky and fun, and if it's your first time visiting Germany, should do well to break you of a number of German stereotypes.
Most tourist attractions and shops open between 10 and 11 am, so have a relaxed morning. If not provided by your accommodation, grab breakfast from a cafe or grocery store, depending on your budget.
I was staying in the Belgian Quarter, aka the hipster district of the city. As such, the area was filled with little curious shops, cafes, and restaurants. The walk to the main touristic area of the city was about 20 minutes, with public transit options available.
Explore the city a little before heading over to the Eigelstein-Torburg(medieval northern gate of Cologne) by 12:11 for the Freewalk Cologne walking tour. For an English tour, you must reserve a spot at least 1.5 hours before the beginning of the tour so the company knows how many guides to send to the gate.
My experience with this tour was fantastic, the guide was hilarious, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. I actually did it on the second full day I had, but I'd recommend doing it on the first to give you a better feel for the city.
The tour ends around 14:45 and you'll be hungry, so grab some lunch from wherever you feel like. For an easy option, there are Merzenich and Kamps bakeries everywhere, or you can do as I did and grab something easy from the Rewe to-go shop.
Even if you don't have a specific interest in perfume (I know I don't), I'd recommend a tour at the Farina Duftmuseum. You'll learn about the oldest modern perfume (with an incredibly historic list of clientele) and how 4711 ingeniously managed to make its knockoff seem like the real deal. At the end of the tour, you'll smell different pure oils and they'll give you a 4 mL sample of the original to take with you.
The tour is 45-60 minutes, so afterwards, continue wandering around the shopping district and go into the Dom if you haven't had the chance to.
For dinner, if you're hungry, I'd recommend the Lebanese restaurant Beirut. I had the vegetarian plate, and it was so much food that I didn't quite finish and could barely move after. It was delicious, and good value for money. Spotted by Locals entry for this restaurant here.
You know the drill. Go find breakfast and do your own thing until attractions start to open.
On this day, I'd suggest going to a museum. Museum Ludwig, the modern art museum, has a phenomenal collection and is extremely popular. I've heard good things about the Museum for East-Asian Arts as well.
Take your time in the museum you choose and have lunch.
Personally, I really enjoyed the Chocolate Museum, and I'd suggest going here in the afternoon. The information presented was incredibly interesting to me, but some find it dry and boring. After your visit, splurge a little on one of the chocolate delicacies from the Chocolat Cafe, and pick up something special from the shop if chocolate is your thing. They sell 500g bags of mixed "second choice" fancy truffles for €10, which I found to be more than acceptable.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft, and I can't recommend this place enough. The rooms were all themed, beautiful, and impeccably clean. It was quiet at night in spite of the bar by the same name on the ground floor (the rooms are located on the 4th and 6th floors). Breakfast was offered at an extra fee, but phenomenal coffee from an espresso machine and 8 different high-quality teas were free 24/7. The location was great, especially considering the high density of restaurants in the area.
This hostel is family-friendly, but if you are booking alone or travelling with friends, you must be at least 21. This is to avoid young party bookings and maintain the calm and clean atmosphere this hostel has. Exceptions can be made, but if you fall into the 18-20 category, please find somewhere else.
The public transportation network is easy to use. There are ticket machines on the trams, but you can also download the KVB app and purchase tickets as you're waiting for a tram, bus, or the metro very easily. All train stations I encountered had machines on the platform.
I took a Flixbus to and from the Cologne-Bonn airport. The airport is roughly 30-40 minutes from the city by public transportation, and I found the most convenient train to be the S19. To get to the Belgian Quarter, take this train to Hansaring then a 12/15 metro to Rudolfplatz, and to get to the city centre, just take the train all the way to the main station.